If your chocolate chip cookies look like they should be served with maple syrup (a la pancakes), you’ve come to the right place!
There’s nothing I like better than a warm chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven.
My mother’s were delicious mounds of walnuts, cranberries, and semisweet morsels with moist centers and crisp edges.
Mine, on the other hand, used to look like chocolate chip pancakes – until I figured out why.
At times, you’re actually meant to have flat cookies, like with our oatmeal lace desserts. But with most cookie recipes, you need to achieve those perfectly risen, tasty delights.
We’ve put together a list of handy tips that will give you more control over your baking, and greater satisfaction with the results. Grab your oven mitts and let’s get started!
Traditional Chocolate Chips
We all have our favorites, from Original Tollhouse to white chocolate macadamia. But the basic ingredients usually go something like this:
- Baking soda
- Brown sugar
- Chocolate chips
- Optional add-ins like nuts or raisins
- White sugar
The procedure generally calls for combining the dry ingredients, then the wet, and then the two together.
Chips go in last. Then the dough is dropped by the spoonful onto baking sheets, and placed into a 350°F oven for about 10 minutes.
In a nutshell, that’s the basic procedure. However, there’s more than meets the eye when these ingredients blend magically to become gooey, delicious treats.
So where do we go wrong when cookies come out flat?
Read on. You may be surprised!
9 Tips to Remember
Baking is challenging, there’s no doubt about it. However, when we understand a little about how ingredients combine and work together, we begin to see how to improve our techniques.
With the following handy hints, you’ll be baking the chocolate chip cookies of your dreams!
1. Use Real Butter and Keep It Cool
The low melting point of butter may be what makes your cookies flat.
Butter is a saturated animal fat, and it’s temperamental. Take it out of the fridge to soften up, and get started the minute it’s workable.
Cream it gently with the sugars until you have a light, fluffy consistency. Don’t overwork it.
Butter that melts prematurely is responsible for many a flat cookie. Managing it is the basis for most of our tips that follow.
Real butter requires some finessing, but the taste and texture can’t be beat.
Whatever you do, don’t use butter substitutes or margarines. They contain too much moisture and tend to spread even more than butter will.
2. Use Shortening
Alternatively, you can avoid the fickle yellow sticks altogether and opt for shortening.
This vegetable fat has a higher melting point, so it doesn’t make cookies spread out like butter can.
However, it doesn’t contain moisture like butter, so it doesn’t go through the same magical process of gluten formation that gives the chewy bite and classic flavor to the traditional chocolate chip.
Some bakers use half butter and half shortening. It’s your call, but read all of the tips below before jumping on the shortening bandwagon!
3. Chill Dough Twice
Once your dough is mixed, put the bowl of dough in the fridge for 10 to 15 minutes. Then spoon the cool dough out onto your baking sheets – a word about them in a minute.
If you have room, place the whole cookie sheet full of portioned dough into the fridge for another 10 minutes or so. Then put the pan into a preheated oven to bake.
Remember that butter has a low melting point. That means it has a tendency to start to melt while we are still making the dough, and before it hits the oven.
By keeping it chilled, melting is delayed until the cookie begins to rise and bake, resulting in a thicker final product.
4. Use Parchment Paper or a Silicone Liner
Line baking pans with parchment paper or Silpat nonstick liners, or use nonstick pans instead of greasing. There’s enough fat in the dough already, and we want to inhibit spreading.
Silpat is the highest quality silicone tray liner on the market. Available on Amazon.
If you use parchment, change sheets between batches. And don’t forget to read our review of Silpats and other top-quality silicone pan liners here.
Also, let pans cool completely between batches. Placing dough on warm sheets will cause the butter to begin to melt.
If you skip this step, the cookies will start to spread before they have a chance to rise, and you’ll have pancakes again.
5. Measure Precisely
Proper proportions are crucial to a good outcome, so be sure to measure carefully. Use dry measuring cups for dry ingredients, so you can level them off.
When measuring flour, don’t pack it down. Instead, tap the measuring cup against your counter to eliminate air pockets. Level off with a straight-edged spatula or knife for accuracy.
White sugar and baking soda may have lumps. These may be sifted and measured, as with flour.
Brown sugar should be packed firmly into your measuring cup, and levelled off. It can be lumpy as well, and these lumps should be removed before packing to measure.
Recipes are based on how ingredients react chemically, rising and binding to create delicious food. Even a slight shortage in the amount of flour will throw off the rising portion of the recipe, producing a flatter result.
Keep in mind that standard substitutions won’t always produce the same results that you’re looking for. If you’re looking to produce a dairy-free or gluten-free batch of biscuits for the first time, set Grandma’s recipe aside and rely on a tested and trusted resource to get the proportions just right.
6. Use Fresh Baking Soda
Baking soda is a leavening agent, which means that it causes baked goods to rise.
Little bubbles of carbon dioxide are released, making air pockets that create a light texture.
If yours is past its expiration date, it might not react chemically with your ingredients, leaving you with a flat, dense result.
7. Use Optional Add-Ins
Maybe your recipe is like mine and it suggests an optional cup of an additional item like nuts, raisins, peanut butter chips, or the like.
Did you ever wonder why a recipe can take or leave an entire cup of an ingredient without affecting its outcome?
The fact is, the outcome is affected. Without these chunky additions, a cookie tends to be flatter.
You can even add another cup of chocolate morsels for more bulk.
8. Buy an Oven Thermometer
After preparing a few batches of cookies that just wouldn’t finish baking, I finally realized that my oven temperature gauge was inaccurate.
I purchase an oven thermometer, and now I adjust my baking temperature setting accordingly.
An oven temp below 350°F is too low for cookie baking. Your butter will begin to melt, and you’ll have pancakes again.
9. Don’t Bake in the Rain
If you’re like me, you love to bake on chilly, wet days.
After all, there’s nothing like a little warmth and the smell of something yummy in the oven to make the house cozy, right?
But did you know that humidity in the air can have an effect on flour?
That’s right. It can absorb moisture, causing it to clump. When measured out, it may compact. And that means you’ll use more than you need.
Damp flour also adds moisture to a recipe, unbalancing that carefully calculated ratio of ingredients. More wetness can mean flatter cookies.
Even with my flour in an airtight container, I still don’t like the way my cookies turn out on wet days.
Note What Works
Cooking is quirky, and baking, even more so. With these handy tips, your pancake days should be over.
Remember to read recipes all the way through before you begin to bake, and measure ingredients carefully.
With all items set out and ready to combine, go back and reread your recipe. Then concentrate on the tips as you go. Make notes and evaluate your results.
And if all else fails… don’t even bother turning on the oven. Make our super easy, super simple no-bake chocolate butter balls.
Drop us a note in the comments about how you’re doing.
Photo credits: Shutterstock. Product photos courtesy of Silpat and Newell Brands.
About Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller is a writer from southeastern Pennsylvania. When she’s not in the garden, she’s in the kitchen preparing imaginative gluten- and dairy-free meals. With a background in business, writing, editing, and photography, Nan writes humorous and informative articles on gardening, food, parenting, and real estate topics. Having celiac disease has only served to inspire her to continue to explore creative ways to provide her family with nutritious locally-sourced food.